Chicago Cubs

Cubs, Brett Anderson start May on wrong foot with blowout loss to Phillies: 'A colossal failure'

Cubs, Brett Anderson start May on wrong foot with blowout loss to Phillies: 'A colossal failure'

Joe Maddon thought Brett Anderson spent the first month of the 2017 season a little uneasy about his position with the defending world champion Cubs.

Most of that, Maddon thought, was due to Anderson pressing in an effort to make sure he didn't let down his new team.

As the calendar rolled over to May Monday night (though it didn't feel like it with the temperature at a soggy 49 degrees at first pitch), Anderson is still in search of peace of mind.

The veteran left-hander survived for just four outs, getting lit up for seven runs on seven hits and a walk as the Philadelphia Phillies (12-12) cruised to a 10-2 victory over the Cubs (13-12).

The Cubs were already behind two hitters into the game as Cesar Hernandez singled and Aaron Altherr doubled him home. Anderson was one pitch away from getting out of the inning, but Phillies first baseman Tommy Joseph lifted a ball into the 14mph winds blowing straight out for a two-out, three-run homer.

"It was kinda a colossal failure from the get-go," Anderson said. "Make a decent pitch to the first batter, bloop single and it's all downhill from there. You see Jon [Lester] or Jake [Arrieta] or whoever at least give your team a chance to win without their A+ stuff. You try to do your part, but today was just a battle from the first pitch and obviously wasn't very successful."

Anderson also had to endure a rain delay that pushed opening pitch back an hour and 25 minutes.

"The delay wasn't so much a factor," Anderson said. "But the first inning when the pseudo-Forrest Gump torrential downpour and then it kinda clears off and the bottom of the first is weird. Ideally, we could've waited 10, 15 more minutes. I still have to go out there and get people out and I wasn't able to do that tonight.

The Cubs have now allowed 32 runs in the first inning this season, by far their worst total by frame:

Beyond the albatross weather, the Cubs didn't get into Chicago until almost 5 a.m. Monday morning after playing the primetime game in Boston Sunday night.

"Andy had a tough night," Maddon said. "There's no other way to slice it. We've been having to come from behind often over the last week to two weeks. It's not easy to continually do, especially when you're getting to bed at five in the morning. No excuses, 'cause Andy came in a night in advance. When you have a tough pitching night like that, it makes it difficult for the team."

On the season, Anderson has given up 15 earned runs on 28 hits and 12 walks in 21.2 innings, good for a 6.23 ERA and 1.85 WHIP. But 13 of those 15 runs have come in two bad starts (Monday and April 18 when he gave up six earned to the Milwaukee Brewers). In the other three outings, Anderson has worked around jams to surrender two earned runs in 16.2 innings despite 11 walks and 13 hits in that span.

"There are no positives to gain from this outing," Anderson said. "With the game starting late yesterday and then the team getting in late, you wanna go out there and give your team a chance to win. I have five starts [this season] now and I'm averaging [a little more than four innings] a start, which is embarrassing from my perspective. Hopefully going forward, I can pitch better and give us a chance."

Mike Montgomery did his part as the long man out of the bullpen, spinning 3.2 scoreless innings of relief. Justin Grimm followed and retired the first five batters he faced before giving up a pair of homers — and three runs total — as the Phillies poured it on.

"Our bullpen did a great job," Anderson said. "I have to pitch better. I haven't gotten in a groove for the most part. It's kinda been hit-or-miss. Hopefully going forward, you can pitch in five-to-six-day rotation, hit that stride and hopefully get some consistent weather, consistent circumstances and pitch better, do better going forward."

Javy Baez scored the only two runs for the Cubs — first on a solo homer on an 0-2 count in the fifth and then on Matt Szczur's sacrifice fly in the seventh — and also had two of the team's four hits.

Ben Zobrist and Willson Contreras collected the only two other Cubs hits — both singles.

As the game turned into a blowout, the Cubs got Kyle Schwarber some time behind the plate, letting the slugger catch the last two innings. It was his first action as a backstop in a regular-season game since September 2015.

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Kyle Schwarber is learning to trust himself again at the plate


Kyle Schwarber is learning to trust himself again at the plate

Baseball people talk all the time about how humbling the game is and how important confidence is.

After all, 90 percent of the game is half mental, right?

While Carl Edwards Jr. gets his confidence back on the mound, Kyle Schwarber is trying to get back into a groove in the batter's box.

Schwarber struck out in eight straight trips to the plate starting Saturday in Arizona and ending Monday night at Wrigley Field. But since then, he's reached base safely in five straight plate appearances and has swung and missed only once in that time.

One of those at-bats was a clutch single to lead off the ninth inning Tuesday night off Reds closer Raisel Iglesias. Schwarber took a pair of strikes (one of which was beneath the strike zone) but then fouled off three pitches before singling into right field on the ninth pitch of the matchup.

"Really good at-bat," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He was choking up pretty fiercly right there. Much shorter approach to the ball. He looked really good. ... Good for him."

The Cubs' ninth-inning rally fell short, but Schwarber scored his team's only run of the game and got to head home with some validation for all the work he's been putting in.

"In that spot, you have to shorten up and either force a walk or put the ball in play," Schwarber said. "You don't want to strike out there to lead off the inning when you're down by two. If you get on base, someone can put the ball out of the ballpark.

"I'm just trying to simplify things down, especially when it gets to two strikes."

One of the main things Schwarber has been focusing in is not expanding the strike zone, which he hasn't done since that eighth strikeout in a row. Sure, it's a small sample size, but a slumping hitter has to start somewhere and the young slugger now has results he can point to.

Schwarber has seen 31 pitches over those five trips to the plate, walking once, getting hit by a pitch twice and lining two singles through the shift on the right side of the infield.

Don't look now, but his average is nearing .200 (.196) while he's posted a .256/.356/.556 (.911 OPS) slash line in 31 games since being recalled from Triple-A Iowa on July 6.

He does have 39 strikeouts in that span, but he also has drawn 12 walks and clubbed 12 extra-base hits, including seven homers.

"It's just fine-tuning," he said. "Just trusting yourself, trusting that you're gonna lay off a pitch in the dirt."

This is the guy who didn't see a live pitch in more than six months last year and then returned on the biggest stage to mash and work tough at-bats against the likes of Corey Kluber and Andrew Miller.

Yet somehow this same dude has lost his confidence and his mojo and has been searching for it almost all year. 

He's trying not to let the bad times build up, attempting to leave poor results in the past.

"You just gotta go at-bat by at-bat," Schwarber said. "You think about that at-bat the next inning, but whenever that inning's over, it's a whole new ballgame, a whole new at-bat."

Strikeouts are gonna happen. That's always been a part of Schwarber's game, but it's also a part of today's game.

Whiffs are up all across the league. Aaron Judge has struck out the second-most times in baseball and has whiffed in 32 straight games, but he's also leading the AL in homers, walks, runs, slugging percentage, OPS and is a legitimate MVP candidate.

Guys like Joey Votto and Anthony Rizzo — who choke up with two strikes consistently and actually walk more than they whiff — are a dying breed.

Strikeouts are viewed differently nowadays. The Tampa Bay Rays have told their players to specifically not shorten up with two strikes this season, looking to take big hacks in every count.

Schwarber can't strike out in eight straight appearances each week, of course, but he can still be a very effective hitter in this Cubs lineup even if he doesn't morph into the next coming of Tony Gwynn.

"Javy [Baez] struck out five times in one game and he's done pretty well since then," Maddon said. "We have a lot of faith in Schwarbs."